CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Story Behind Three Exonerations

The story of how the late forensic scientist Mary Jane Burton's meticulous work led to three exonerations...

From MSNBC.com: Richmond, VA (AP)--"The forensic scientist cut off the tip of a cotton swab and taped it to a lab sheet next to a snippet of stained clothing.  Always save a piece of what you test, Mary Jane Burton instructed her watchful trainee.

But why? This was 1977, years before the invention of DNA testing. Yet day after day, she repeated this seemingly pointless procedure...taping swabs smeared with blood, semen and saliva and inserting them into their case files...[S]he retired from the Virginia state crime lab [and passed away in 1999], leaving behind scores of forgotten files, each holding samples imprinted with nature’s barcode.

The lab she worked in is gone now, but a few miles away...is a cavernous warehouse where 17 numbered rows of metal shelves tower 28 feet to the ceiling. They hold 75,000 covered cardboard boxes — more than 4,000 of them the property of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.  Many of the tiny pieces of bloodied clothing and cotton swabs that Burton taped down were tucked inside their manila folders, filed away in boxes scattered throughout the room.

There they remained undisturbed for years, waiting for science to catch up with them — and waiting for someone to discover that they are there." Years later, that's what happened.... [Mark Godsey]

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/crimprof_blog/2005/10/the_story_behin.html

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